Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett claimed he forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to backtrack on recent comments he made of possible Israeli unilateral pullouts in the West Bank by giving the prime minister a verbal “bullet between the eyes,” Army Radio reported on Monday.
Bennett allegedly made the statement during a private meeting last week with Jewish Home party activists from West Bank settlements. The education minister’s remark prompted fellow party member Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, sitting alongside him, to caution him to be careful in his choice of language.
“Abroad Bibi talked about unilateral moves; he went back on it after I put a bullet between his eyes,” Bennett reportedly said.
Ariel immediately called on Bennett to “watch your language.” Bennett responded: “Don’t misunderstand, it is of course a metaphor.”
Bennett then warned the gathering, “If you leak it from here, there will not be any more meetings like this.”
Less than a month ago Israel marked 20 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.
When challenged Monday by Army Radio to explain himself, Bennett avoided commenting directly on the bullet metaphor or to reveal exactly what passed between Netanyahu and himself regarding any unilateral Israeli move.
“I am responsible for Israel’s security, and I will not respond about private conversations,” Bennett said. “There will be no unilateral moves as long as I am in the government. I have no intention to be nice when we are talking about a danger to the citizens of Israel.”
Other details of the private meeting first came to light last week, when Army Radio reported that Bennett told the audience “anyone who thinks we are sitting in a right-wing government is mistaken.”
Earlier this month, Netanyahu walked backed a comment he made a day after suggesting that an Israeli unilateral pullout from the West Bank was possible under the right conditions if it had the international community’s backing and fully satisfied Israel’s security concerns.
“The prime minister didn’t speak of a unilateral withdrawal but of the possibility of unilateral steps, specifically those that would strengthen Israel’s security and diplomatic interests in the face of terror,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a Hebrew-language statement to the press, some 12 hours after Netanyahu made his remarks during an event at a progressive Washington think tank, the Center for American Progress.
Netanyahu also tweeted a condensed, first-person version of the statement, that apparently referred to the 2005 Gaza Strip pullout and concluded: “I have no intention of evacuating or uprooting towns. That mistake won’t recur.”